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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs to interview Bengals' Zimmer, Panthers' Chudzinski

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 11:15 AM

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TAMPA -

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers appear to have a renewed interest in hiring a rookie head coach.

After focusing primarily on candidates with prior NFL head coaching experience, the Bucs were preparing Friday to interview Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, a source with knowledge of the search confirmed.

Neither Zimmer nor Chudzinski has been a head coach before.

It is not known when the interviews will be held.

Zimmer, 55, and Chudzinski, 49, join a list of candidates that includes unemployed former head coaches Mike Sherman, Brad Childress and Marty Schottenheimer, as well as Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray.

Gray has never been a head coach.

New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, however, took time from preparations for today's playoff game against San Francisco to endorse Gray. Williams, who hired Gray 14 years ago as a quality control coach, said Gray is ready to be a head coach and would be a good fit with the Bucs.

"I have zero reservations about Jerry Gray,'' said Williams, a 21-year NFL coaching veteran who served as head coach of the Buffalo Bills and defensive coordinator with four teams. "He's ready."

Zimmer interviewed for one other head coaching job, the Dolphins, after Miami realized Jeff Fisher was leaning toward taking the Rams' job, which he did on Friday. Chudzinski interviewed for two head coaching positions this year: the Rams and the Jaguars, who chose Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.

Zimmer and Chudzinski have had success as coordinators.

Zimmer has spent the past 12 years working as a coordinator in Dallas, Atlanta and Cincinnati, where his Bengals defense ranked seventh in yards allowed in 2011.

Chudzinski became a coordinator with Cleveland in 2007, when the Browns won 10 games and sent four players to the Pro Bowl. With the Panthers this season, Chudzinski orchestrated an offense that ranked seventh in the league in total yards with rookie Cam Newton at quarterback.

Gray has had success as a coordinator, too.

As Buffalo's defensive coordinator from 2001-2005, his Bills defenses ranked second in the league in yards allowed twice and were in the top 10 in points allowed twice.

A four-time Pro Bowl cornerback during a nine-year playing career that began in Los Angeles in 1985 and ended in Tampa in 1993, Gray is a successful coach because he approaches coaching the way he approached playing, Williams said.

"The reason Jerry was a four-time Pro Bowler was because of his work ethic and the way he prepared and as a coach he's the same way,'' Williams said. "You're not going to outwork Jerry Gray.

"Plus, he's been around a really good collection of managers and mentors, both as a player and as a coach. He was with us (in Tennessee) with Jeff Fisher, and he went with me to Washington and worked under Joe Gibbs.

"Now he's with Mike Munchak, who's a Hall of Famer, and he played for some great coaches in John Robinson and Fritz Shurmur and even learned under Jack Pardee when he was with the Oilers.''

One of Gray's greatest attributes, Williams said, is an ability to transfer to players the knowledge and skills that made him a Pro Bowler.

"He knows what it takes to get the best out of his players,'' Williams said. "He's the best individual coaching teacher I've ever had. And he's a strong disciplinarian.''


rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979

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